Handel arr Mackerras: Music for the Royal Fireworks

On the 27th April 1749 there was to be held a grand fireworks display in London’s Green Park, to celebrate the 2nd Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle which brought to an end the War of the Spanish Succession. King George II himself led his troops in the Battle of Dettingen. One of the outcomes of this treaty was to see Marie Therèse firmly seated on the throne of Austria – upon whose lap the boy Mozart was to sit some fourteen years later.

Handel was commanded to provide the music, for which he assembled a large wind band of 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, double bass, serpent, 9 trumpets, 9 hand horns, 6 timpani and side drums. Tragedy struck on the appointed evening of celebration when the specially constructed pavilion was burned to the ground as a result of the fireworks igniting prematurely. The previous day it was reported “12,000 people attended the dress rehearsal … that it was nigh impossible to cross London Bridge for the press of carriages, chairs and people”; traffic jams over 250 years ago!

Handel wanted to include stringed instruments in his orchestration, but the King would have none of it; but after the event he did. Over the years various arrangers have left their mark on this music and for this evening’s performance one sees assembled a conventional “Symphony Orchestra”.

The Oxford Dictionary of Music states that the original Suite consisted of eight numbers.


In the French or “da capo” style, a style in which the faster movement is placed between the outer slower movements. The final section is a repeat of the opening exposition. Literally “da capo” means “from the beginning”.


A dance form in a four-in-the-measure rhythm. All its phrases begin on the fourth beat of the bar – otherwise it resembles a Gavotte.

La Paix

Literally “Peace”: this movement in 12/8 takes the form of a Siciliana or “Pifa”. Pastoral in style, it is thought that the opening melody of this movement is from an authentic folk song that Handel noted down while in Italy.

La Réjouissance (“Rejoicing”)

A celebratory movement with the brass section to the fore. It includes some brilliant antiphony.

Minuet I

A graceful three-in-the-measure dance written in the minor key, D minor. The movement being in the minor may have formed the trio section of the minuet which follows.

Minuet II

A return to the major key, and the brilliant writing makes for a joyful climax to the Suite.